Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins Saturday at Air Canada Centre:
Buds get on the scoreboard first, but desperate Bruins push back.
Riding a three-game win streak, the Leafs came out of the gate looking ready to play spoiler against a Bruins squad fighting to make the playoffs – and finished the opening period leading Boson 1-0 on Ben Smith’s second goal of the season.
However, the visitors, who were on a five-game losing skid entering the night, fought back in the second frame, tying the game on a Patrice Bergeron play goal at 2:52, then taking the lead on Zdeno Chara’s ninth of the season at 6:29. And from there, Boston held Toronto to 15 shots on net in the final 40 minutes of play and added an empty-net marker from Matt Beleskey to secure the victory. It was the final contest of the season between the two teams, and Toronto fell to 1-3-1 in the season series.
“I think we had a good first, and we got a little sloppy in the next one,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “We came out in the third and had our moments, but we weren’t consistent enough over the course of a 60-minute game.”
Passion built as the game continued, but Leafs couldn’t tie things up.
The Bruins outshot the Leafs 11-5 in the second, but Toronto didn’t back down as the game went on and the bad blood that always seems to be just below the surface between the two teams bubbled over after Beleskey’s empty-netter. If the Buds had’ve tied it, overtime would’ve been a spirited affair, but star goalie Tuukka Rask kept that from happening en route to winning his 29th game of the season.
“I thought we did lots of good things,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we had a real good push-back in the third. It was one of those nights they really dug in and we were unable to score. I thought we had good opportunity and didn’t score.”
Power play opportunities squandered.
After racking up three power play goals Thursday against the Ducks, Toronto failed to convert on any of their two man advantages against Boston, and the Bruins scored twice in five power plays. That combination goes a long way toward explaining why the Buds’ win streak and the Bruins’ losing streak both came to an end Saturday.
New career-best for Carrick.
Blueliner Connor Carrick logged 21:43 of ice time Saturday, breaking his personal best of 21:36 he set in a March 9 Leafs victory over the Islanders. The 21-year-old is still settling in as a full-time NHLer, but he’s showing enough to Babcock and the staff to earn their trust.
“You just find little areas of the rink to have success in and confidence grows bit-by-bit,” Carrick said of his learning curve. “You just have to try and ride it and just grow. You have to grow.”
Unfortunate end to an otherwise stellar homestand.
The defeat wasn’t the way the Leafs wanted to end their six-game run at the ACC, but the fact remains they won four of those games – including victories over Tampa Bay, Calgary, the Sabres and Anaheim – and deserved each win.
“I like to win each game,” Babcock said. “The ones that we won before are over with. We knew it was going to be a good game against Boston. They’re a desperate team, they’d dropped a few in a row. They’ve got a good club, and I thought we gave ourselves a good opportunity. In the end, I would’ve liked to have seen us score.”
The Buds now embark on a three-game road trip (taking them through Tampa Bay on Monday, Florida on Tuesday and Buffalo Thursday), before returning to Toronto to play their final three home games of the regular season. In that time, they’ll have numerous chances to continue affecting their opposition’s post-season chances, and earn a role on next year’s Leafs team.